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Battle of Sambre (57 BC)

By Chris Jones

Julius Caesar was in the process of adding the three parts of Transalpine Gaul to the Roman Empire. This achievement written up in his self-serving book "De Bello Gallico" would be the cornerstone of his fame, which lead eventually to the Civil War with Pompey. Caesar being victorious in this war would then be offered the throne of Rome and famously be assassinated in the Senate on the Ides of March. All that lay in the future, however, as Caesar while completing his conquest of Gaul was faced by a revolt among the Belgae who he had previously pacified. After dealing with the less belligerent coastal tribes, Caesar turned his attention to the Nervii, the most warlike of the tribes of the Belgae who lived in the forests and hills of the Ardennes.

Able to put 120,000 warriors in the field, the Nervii relied mainly on hard charging infantry with relatively few cavalry. When they heard that Caesar was marching against them, they sent their women and families deep into the forests for safety and mustered their forces to oppose him. They came upon the Roman army while it was busy encamping for the night on rising ground near the river Sambre. Caesar's six legions were scattered about engaged in building and fortifying a marching camp when 60,000 Nervii warriors suddenly emerged from deep woods and charged fiercely over the river towards them.

The moment was charged with tension and danger for Caesar, as the Seventh and Twelfth Legions were quickly surrounded by the charging warriors and their centurions and officers were cut down. Caesar seeing the danger in an instant took up a shield and fought in the front rank to inspire his men. At the same time, the veteran Tenth Legion, which had formed up in line of battle on higher ground, now charged down and forced back the tide of Nervii warriors. The Nervii rush was broken, but they still fought on desperately despite heavy casualties. Two more late arriving legions helped Caesar finally turn the tide of battle. Of 60,000 Nervii involved, only 500 are said to have escaped alive.

Simulating Sambre in DBA

Order of Battle

  • Marian Roman (#59) -- 2x Cv, 8x Bd, 2x Ps

  • Nervii (Gallic #35) -- 2x Cv, 9x Wb, 1x Ps

Terrain

The Roman camp should be being built on an area of higher ground which gives combat advantage but is not bad going. The river Sambre should cross near the centre of the table and is fordable along its entire length.

The Gallic deployment zone should be wooded which only counts as bad going if fought in but does not reduce movement in the initial advance.

Deployment

The Gauls can deploy anywhere on the edge of the wooded area. The Romans should be scattered about on the rising ground with each element at least 100 paces apart. They should be facing in random directions decided by dice rolls (assign a value to each of eight cardinal points and roll for each unit - either use 2d6 ignoring 9,10,11 and 12 or use eight-sided dice if you have them. )

Special Rules

The Roman General unit (Caesar) and 2 of the Bd units (the Tenth Legion) can move in the first phase without requiring a Pip. This represents their ability to act independently of command when the danger is perceived.

Victory Conditions

Normal DBA.

Notes

The Roman player needs to form his troops up quickly and pray for decent Pip scores. If he succeeds the higher ground should help him win.

The Gauls need to attack and attack and attack!! The new proposed rule allowing them to make an additional move to contact would be useful here to simulate the sudden rush of the Nervii.

Caesar's works "De Bello Gallico" and its sister work on the Civil War, "De Bello Civili" are of course the inspiration for "De Bellis Antiquitatis" (i.e., DBA), as well as DBM and DBR.


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Last Update: April 25, 2000

My thanks to Chris Jones for this scenario. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome. Send them to Chris Brantley at IamFanaticus@gmail.com.